Memorial Day, check

This holiday, consider the Orioles' plight and other revelations of a young season

Mlb Week

May 27, 2007|By DAN CONNOLLY

Baseball has plenty of unofficial dates.

Memorial Day traditionally is the first time those within the game take a hard look at performance.

Two months - and nearly a third of the season - have passed, and baseball people have seen enough to get a feel for their respective teams. It's also early enough to make corrections before the next unofficial evaluation period, the All-Star break.

So here's a crash course on what we've learned about the 2007 season:

The Orioles are a mess ...

But at least they are a consistent mess. Nine seasons of futility, and another one looks there for the taking. Manager Sam Perlozzo is one of the most likable men in the sport, but you know the old adage: Nice guys only finish ahead of the Devil Rays.

So Perlozzo's apparently on the chopping block because that's life as a big league manager. Several of his pitching moves have been widely questioned and there are grumblings that he has lost the support of the clubhouse. Still, he hasn't gotten a lot of help from an offense that stubbornly refuses to drive in runs, a rotation that enjoys watching the game in the seventh inning and an overworked, overpaid bullpen. Losing three starting pitchers to injuries early likely put the nails in another coffin of a season.

Believe the boasting in Boston ...

The Red Sox are as good as advertised. And, incredibly, so is the samurai of hype, Daisuke Matsuzaka. At this pace, the Red Sox could clinch the American League East by the All-Star break. Consider that Josh Beckett lost two weeks to a finger injury and Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew have started slow, and one can only imagine how good this team will be as the season progresses. Plus, the Red Sox have enough young talent to deal for reinforcements in July, if necessary.

Say good night, Yankees fans ...

Your streak of nine straight AL East titles is over. And so may be your annual run to the playoffs. It's foolish to count out the Bronx Bombers and the best overall lineup in baseball, but the club is in too much of a hole to catch an excellent Red Sox team, even if Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax join Roger Clemens in an exodus from retirement. The return of Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang, whom many consider the actual ace of the staff, will help this club dramatically, but it's going to be tough to outlast the AL Central teams in the wild-card race.

Don't look now but ...

The AL Central is tops in baseball. The Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians are vying for the title of best team not in Boston. And the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins could make this the best divisional race in recent memory. The scary thing is none of these clubs is going away anytime soon. There's a chance this division dominates for the remainder of the decade.

Prepare for a Texas barbecue ...

Because the Rangers are again wilting, and they have some intriguing pieces they could move at the trade deadline. The one that excites fans here is first baseman and Maryland native Mark Teixeira, who can be a free agent at the end of 2008. The Rangers would love to sign him long-term, but his agent, Scott Boras, has a well-earned reputation of testing free agency. And the Rangers probably feel they can get more for Teixeira now. Believe it or not, former Oriole Sammy Sosa also could be a midseason fill-in for a contender.

Here we go again ...

Because the remarkable Atlanta Braves have, indeed, reloaded. While everyone was picking either the 2006 National League East champion New York Mets or the trendy Philadelphia Phillies to win the division, the Braves have shown that they can't be forgotten. Led by the resurgence of Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones and emerging stars Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, the Braves look like they'll again contend for the division crown after a year hiatus.

The Phillies aren't ...

Finished yet. Probably the league's most disappointing club not owned by George Steinbrenner, the Phillies have shown some signs of life in May, even as reigning Most Valuable Player Ryan Howard watches from the disabled list. Truth is, the Phillies have been as beat up as nearly anyone in baseball, but their biggest question from March lingers: Can they get consistent work from a beleaguered bullpen? That answer will decide whether they are in the race in September.

It's still fun to watch ...

Barry Bonds when he's healthy. And he's about as healthy as a 42-year-old ballplayer gets. It couldn't be determined in the spring whether his legs would allow him to approach Hank Aaron's all-time home run record. Now it's a matter of when he'll hit No. 756 this season - and how baseball will handle its least favorite stepchild's historical clout. The guesses are sometime in early July, and begrudgingly.

We knew it'd be bad but ...

The NL Central really stinks. The Milwaukee Brewers are a fun young team that's probably a year and another stud starter away from making real noise, but they'll waltz through this division of indifference. The St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champs, are sleepwalking without ace Chris Carpenter, and the rest of the clubs define mediocrity. The Brewers have been struggling recently and still have a comfortable lead.

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